I’m feeling a bit misty-eyed this month as I look back upon everything the visual arts has achieved in Maidenhead over the last few years. We’ve seen countless events, exhibitions and commissions. These days, pop-up shows are quite the norm. We’re about to have our first arts trail. Public art projects are finally starting to see the light of day and we even have artists’ studios in our town centre! It proves what we’ve always known – artists are endlessly resourceful and can pull projects together with a bit of gaffa tape, some cable ties and scribbled ideas on the back of a fag packet. But of course, boundary-pushing is what artists do best and it’s crystal clear what is missing from a town so saturated with visual artists: a gallery.
Maidenhead artists are well used to ‘doing the circuit’, by which I mean that they find themselves exhibiting in the perimeter of galleries that exist around the outskirts of Maidenhead, but not in it. There are spaces for hire, often where artists become their own curator, technician and marketing manager. It’s a rich experience for artists and has the potential to be a really valuable addition to a town centre. Trouble is, galleries are all too often subsumed into arts centres and subsequently aren’t the main attraction, as they don’t command ticket sales or produce a steady stream of income. Their walls need to pay for themselves.
Yet, a town centre gallery would probably be more beneficial to the impression of Maidenhead than it actually would to the artists in it, as galleries have a natural capacity limitation. What it would achieve for artists is a heightened perception of Maidenhead’s visual arts offering. An attractive, centrally located space that hosts a well-designed, curated, marketed and administrated mix of community exhibitions and touring shows could be the natural ‘home’ for a branch of the arts that is used to existing on the fringes, with little dedicated space. An expensive exercise, yes, but rather than seeing it as a frivolity, the presence of a gallery can be an indicator of the success of a town, demonstrating not only its cultural, but long-term economic strength.